By Arlene Shovald –
Ready to soar over the abyss? Power slide on a fast and furious jet boat? Or maybe plummet into an “old” mine shaft? If you’re looking for a new adventure this summer, Colorado has just what you need.
Royal Heart Stoppers
Start with one of the world’s highest suspension bridges: the renowned Royal Gorge Bridge west of Cañon City. Your adventure can be as simple as a walk across this famous bridge 956 feet above the Arkansas River. Or it could be more. You can zip across the gorge itself on the Cloudscraper Zip Line, swing out over the gorge on the Skycoaster or, if you’re looking for something tamer, ride the gondolas.
Any of these adventures make for a smile-inducing adrenaline “fix.”
“The zip rider is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done,” said Peggy Gair, public relations manager at the Royal Gorge Bridge. “Flying over the gorge, you have a beautiful view that takes your breath away.”
It is thrilling, but it is also safe. State-of-the- art harnesses and a self-braking system take the worry away, leaving you free to zip the 1,987 feet across the gorge while enjoying a fabulous view of rock cliffs and the Arkansas’ ribbon of blue almost 1,200 feet below.
The zip line is new following a disastrous wildfire in 2013 that destroyed 90 percent of the park, including the original zip line, which paralleled the walls of the gorge. The new Cloudscraper, which now runs parallel to the bridge, opened in 2015.
Up for more adrenaline? The Skycoaster was named the scariest sky coaster in the world by the manufacturer. It has been in place since 2003 and is one of a few features that survived the fire.
You can only imagine what you’re in for as you’re outfitted in a flight suit and hooked into the Skycoaster swing’s platform along with up to two other people. Next, you’re pulled 100 feet up to get ready to swing out over the gorge. When you are ready, you, as the rider, pull the rip cord and sweep down and out over the cliff edge at about 50 mph.
“People say it’s even scarier than the zip rider,” Gair said. “There’s a lot of screaming going on. It’s the closest thing to skydiving I’ve done.”
Scenery surrounding all three rides — the gondola, zip line and Skycoaster — is awesome. You’ll see rock formations, the Arkansas River and 360 degrees of fantastic Colorado views. If the timing is right, you may even see the Royal Gorge Route Railroad below you, looking like a toy train as it snakes through the gorge.
The bridge was built in 1929. When it opened during the Great Depression, the bridge itself was the main attraction with visitors paying 25 cents to cross. Until 2001, it was the highest bridge in the world. Then, it was surpassed by the Liuguanghe Bridge in China. Today, it is still the highest bridge in the United States.
Through the years more attractions were added to the park to satisfy the adventure-seeking public, but it is doubtful any thrill ride will ever surpass the Skycoaster and the Cloudscraper.
Everyone may enjoy the gondola ride across the gorge, which is included with park admission. There are separate fees for the Cloudscraper and the Skycoaster. Information can be found at RoyalGorgeBridge.com, or by calling 719-275-7507 or 888-333-5597.
For a one-of-a-kind water adventure and adrenaline rush, head to De Beque in western Colorado where Jet Boat Colorado thrills its customers with a river experience not found any place else in the state.
In operation from mid-May to early September, this custom-built, New Zealand-style river boat, named the Wild Mustang, can travel up to 40 mph on the river and then suddenly put you into a “cowboy spin” and soak you in the waves created by the boat itself. The boat’s maneuverability allows for power slides that keep your heart pounding as you yell for more.
Joe Keys, manager and one of the experienced drivers of the Wild Mustang, is no stranger to the river. He’s been a river guide most of his adult life. While working in New Zealand, he was attracted to the jet boats there.
“I realized this style boat was perfect for the Colorado River,” he said. “We’re the only company in Colorado that I know of offering jet boat tours. There are only four of these boats running on rivers in the United States.”
Jet boats were created in New Zealand in the 1950s. A rancher, William Hamilton, had a huge sheep ranch with a shallow, rocky river running through it and needed a way to navigate through his property to tend his flocks. Horses were too slow and the terrain was too rough for trucks, so out of necessity he perfected this jet-propelled system. The technology came to the United States in the 1960s when Hamilton and his son ran a jet boat upstream on the Colorado River — the first and only upstream run in the Grand Canyon.
Jet Boat Colorado offers two tours. The “wet and wild” adventure tour includes the spins, slides and speed runs that keep your adrenaline rushing. The scenic tour, for those who enjoy the serenity of the Colorado River, is a drier, more relaxed option with plenty of stops to enjoy the sights. On both trips the driver shares information about the spectacular landscapes and the rich history of the area. Besides enjoying stunning views of the Roan Plateau and the Grand and Battlement mesas, riders are likely to see majestic bald eagles soaring overhead or fishing from riverside perches. There might also be other wildlife along the banks: elk, bears, wild turkeys and wild horses.
The Wild Mustang comfortably seats up to 11 people in theater fashion, with each row elevated slightly above the previous row. This style seating ensures all passengers have an unobstructed view. Cameras are discouraged because they get wet and passengers can lose control of them during maneuvers. However, Jet Boat Colorado has two waterproof cameras on board taking video and still photos of this adventure. Video copies and still photos are available for purchase.
Prior to boarding, guests are given a safety orientation and fitted with life jackets. Handholds are inside the boat. Tours are open to all ages. The only requirement is passengers must weigh 50 pounds.
Last year, during its inaugural season, Jet Boat Colorado passengers came from across the United States and from four different countries.
“I was surprised at how fast the Wild Mustang traveled,” said Monica McElyea of Breckenridge after her jet boat ride. “We saw some beautiful sights that would be inaccessible without taking the jet boat tour. Our driver, Joe, was so fun and his historical knowledge about the area was incredible and very informative. Now, every time we drive through the canyon, we’re looking for the Wild Mustang on the river and the historical sites he pointed out.”
“The boat’s maneuverability at that speed is shocking!” added Seth Davis, a passenger from Westminster. “The adventure trip will leave you surprised and impressed that a boat that size, in that little water, can do those cowboy spins and slides. There is definitely no shortage of excitement. This boat is designed for people young in age and young at heart. Everyone can come away with a true wild west Colorado experience. If you’re looking for the next new Colorado adventure, this needs to be on your bucket list.”
Keys loves that he gets to share his excitement with his job. “I’ve worked on the river since I was a kid and I’ve never had the feeling of having to go to work,” he said. “This is so enjoyable and the best thing is getting people excited about being outside. Each day has its own excitement.”
Jet Boat Colorado is in De Beque, 25 miles east of Grand Junction and 45 minutes west of Glenwood Springs along Interstate 70. Up to five wet and wild adventure rides and one scenic ride are offered daily. Online reservations are preferred at JetBoatColorado.com.
Mountaintop Thrill Ride
Not far from Jet Boat Colorado, just off I-70 in Glenwood Springs, is the Haunted Mine Drop, the newest and probably the most unusual attraction at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. It’s the only drop ride in the world that goes underground. It is expected to open for the July 4 weekend and already attracted the attention of USA Today, where it was named one of the 12 most-anticipated thrill rides for 2017.
“We’re the only family-owned park on the list and the only ride in Colorado to be selected,” said owner Steve Beckley.
The Haunted Mine Drop ties Glenwood Springs’ historic past to the present. Visitors take the tram up Iron Mountain from Glenwood Springs to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and enter the rustic replica of an 1890s mine at an elevation of 7,100 feet. Six people at a time will sit in the ride where ghosts from Colorado’s mining past begin telling tales of their demise beneath the surface. While the ghostly tales unfold, the floor will suddenly slide out from under the guests and they will plummet 110 feet into the mine where more ghosts continue the tales.
The tales aren’t true but they’re based on real legend and lore, gathered from historical stories of early-day mining accidents and hauntings in the area. The illusions at the bottom of the mine are Pepper’s ghosts, a technique invented by “Professor” John Henry Pepper and English engineer Henry Dircks in the late 1800s. Mark McDonough and his team at St. Louis-based Creative Visions developed characters for theme parks, museums and haunted attractions for such places as Universal Studios theme parks, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags and other famous attractions, so guests can be assured of a scary and realistic underground adventure.
“Our location on top of Iron Mountain bordering Glenwood Canyon, is what sets Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park apart,” Beckley said. “As a family-owned and -operated business, we can’t spend $15 million on a ride. We have to take advantage of our uniqueness to attract guests from all over the world. That’s what led us to create the only drop ride in the world that goes underground.”
The history of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park dates to 1895 when it opened to the public as the Fairy Caves. The caves closed at the onset of World War I and remained closed for 82 years until the Beckleys reopened them in 1999. At that time, visitors took a bus from Glenwood Springs to the caves. The park added the tramway in 2003 to transport guests year-round. Next came other attractions, such as the first Alpine Coaster in the United States. Beckley traveled to Germany to convince the manufacturer, Wiegand Sports, to build one at the park.
Then there is the Soaring Eagle Zip Ride, where you soar 625 feet down the mountain; the Giant Canyon Swing that launches riders out 1,300 feet above the Colorado River; and the Glenwood Canyon Flyer that takes riders around and around until they swing out 1,300 feet above the canyon floor. The tram ride to the top of Iron Mountain includes an opportunity to ride 13 attractions and take two cave tours.
Reservations aren’t needed. For information on hours, ticket prices and when the Haunted Mine Drop will open, visit GlenwoodCaverns.com.
Writer Arlene Shovald of Salida has many talents and interests. Besides working as a writer, reporter and book author, she is a clinical hypnotherapist.